How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran (2011)

I had seen this title floating for quite some time around the blogospheres, and so I picked it up always curious about how (one) younger woman feels about feminism. Is it still an important cause for young women (i.e. women younger than me)? Is the cupcake/domesticity/pink princess trend a positive trend for women’s progress in society? Or is it even that simple?

Being the elderly age I am (nearly 50 – holy cow, that’s old), I have been keenly aware of women’s progress throughout my life, both from having attended an all-girls’ school (which was slightly aware of these things), having a mother who was aware of things, and then from delving into things myself. I can well remember specific incidents of gender discrimination, and although it really annoyed me, I wasn’t the type of person to actually address the incident face to face.

In fact, the one time I did address it in the US, it backfired.   I was lifeguarding and had an awful weird boss – and when we (the female lifeguards as a group) did bring his behavior to the attention of the big bosses, they just said we were being “too sensitive.” However, this was just before the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings so the system wasn’t set up for that as it is now. I do know that if our group had registered the same complaint in recent years, there would have been consequences for him (the horrible boss), but at the time, it was “just a bunch of girls not taking a joke”.

So – now, after having learned about how hard it was for women to get their rights on so many things (even ownership of their own lives), I appreciate how far women have come in both the UK and in the US. (I recognize elsewhere is different.) However, I am wondering if the female college student of today, the typical one here in Texas (if there is such a person) – does this generation appreciate the struggles that their forerunners had? Or do you think that (some) younger women just see all the rights (even as a female voter) as always having been there and therefore to be nothing too special? Do you think “familiarity breeds contempt” in this issue and that because the rights have always been available to them that they don’t seem that special?

I am not judging people, by any means. Just wondering, really. I wonder if people who are in their teens or twenties (or even perhaps thirties) really understand that women used to be property, that women didn’t have a say in anything (not even in the home or domestic sphere)… or do you think it’s viewed (generally) as being something that happened so long ago and is so ingrained in the culture that it’s not even recognized as being a right? It just is, and therefore not worth talking about. I don’t know, and I am certainly not saying that all younger women everywhere feel this way (if they do). But Moran’s book has been provocative in how she views feminism from a younger perspective.

She’s a music journalist in the UK, probably mid-thirties, and has a lot to say. I am all for debating issues, but at the same time, I do want all the players to be informed about said issues or it’s a waste of time  and misleading for people. Moran has some strengths and some weaknesses (as we all do), and she is (of course) pro-feminism (Strident Feminism, as she calls it), but her lack of clarity (and sometimes fact) weakens her discussion.

Is Feminism a dirty topic nowadays? Is it a done deal for the younger women in First World Countries? I have seen articles that state that some younger women now view “Feminists” as being hairy and anti-men, and that they would rather not call themselves that at all. (Perhaps this is a regional thing as well.)

I don’t know the answers, but I do find the topic fascinating. Moran’s book has been portrayed as a manifesto in some ways, but I don’t pick that up  at all. Yes, she advocates being a “Strident Feminist” to maintain the freedoms and rights that women have nowadays, but at the same time, she also blithely states ideas that are blatantly misinformed. She scoffs at people who argue that women’s history is there in the records  – that women did do admirable achievements in the world of science and other areas. Moran states that women’s history is not there NOT because it is hidden and the patriarchy has covered it up, but that women’s history is not there because women didn’t do anything.  Yes, that’s right. Until Moran came along, nothing remotely historical or note-worthy had been done by a woman anywhere ever in the world.

What. On.  Earth. Is.  She. Talking. About?….

And that argument affected how I read the rest of her book. I couldn’t take anything else she said seriously. How could one argue that position nowadays and still call oneself a Strident Feminist (her words)? It just doesn’t make any sense to me and is not truthful. Of course, women have done notable things (apart from have babies and dominate the domestic sphere)? How can you argue otherwise when the evidence is there and easily accessible, especially nowadays with the internet et al.?

I do see that I am probably not really her target audience. There is the possibility that she is being satirical about this, but if she is, it’s not consistent throughout the book. However, I think that if you’re going to write a book called “How to be a Woman” that you actually have to have your facts straight, even if it is opinion-based. Perhaps this is all ok if the book itself is categorized as “memoir” as opposed to straight non-fiction, and opinion is fine in this situation. I just see this book as somewhat of a “bait and switch” and an opportunity lost really to remind some (particularly younger) women that being a feminist is not a bad thing and that it could all change very rapidly. (Witness some of the election talk that has been going on.)

So – provocative book? Yes. Well written? Yes. But I hope that its (younger) readers will be encouraged to go off and fill in all the huge gaps that Moran leaves open with regard to feminism and women’s rights. (Moran is amazingly know-it-all about feminist theory, it seems, and yet she really only mentions Germaine Greer as her main reference. Greer is also used as a reviewer on the cover blurb. A mutual lovefest.)

This was really one of the most annoying books that I have forced myself to read this year.

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